A recent survey of 1,506 American adults commissioned by consumer privacy and security company ExpressVPN explores current password sharing habits among (non-married) couples across video streaming, social media, and other online digital platforms to determine motivations for sharing accounts, along with reservations and associated risks.
Couples are quick to share a variety of passwords with each other; most do so within first six months of dating
Password sharing among couples is common: Among an array of account types, entertainment platforms—video streaming (78%), music streaming (58%) and gaming streaming services (52%)—are shared most, along with mobile device passcodes / fingerprints / facial recognition (64%).
Most services, aside from social media and mobile device accounts (shared most with family), are more commonly shared with a significant other than family or friends.
Among those sharing video streaming services, Netflix (86%), Hulu (57%), and Amazon Prime Video (52%) are shared most with a significant other.
Among those currently sharing passwords, login information is often initially shared in the first six months of a relationship: 58% share passwords for video streaming services and social media accounts with their significant other within the first six months of dating. Millennials and Generation Z are also more likely to share passwords with their significant other across all platforms, as compared to older folks:
[% that indicate they currently share passwords with SO for the following platforms]
When asked what a willingness to share passwords with a significant other was indicative of, most said trust (70%) and commitment (63%). On the flip side, 31% admit to getting into an argument over a significant other not paying for shared subscription services.
Companies such as Netflix have indicated they may be looking to crack down on freeloaders, and 54% of Netflix users say they’re likely to unsubscribe should Netflix limit password sharing.
“While it may seem innocuous in the moment and a way to establish trust in a relationship, sharing passwords can put your personal identity and private information at risk if you don’t take the proper precautions,” said Harold Li, vice president, ExpressVPN. “If you’re going to share your password, make sure you’re at least practicing proper password hygiene and avoiding common mistakes such as reusing the same password combinations across multiple accounts or sharing them with others through unsecured methods like text messages or social media.”
Reservations about password sharing are supported by risk of hacking and unwelcome usage
Among people who don’t share passwords with anyone, the most common objection is that the same username and password combination is often used for additional accounts—a valid online security threat. The primary methods of password sharing (beyond oral sharing) offer further threats to personal privacy, with 34% sharing passwords over text and 20% through email.
Overall, respondents are most concerned about personal data privacy in regard to sharing login information for mobile wallets (72%), personal email (68%) and social media accounts (68%).
Similarly threatening is the potential for misuse of account information by others: 26% confess they’ve shared someone else’s login information for a video streaming account/s without their consent (while 30% say they’ve had their own login information used without their consent.)
Many also confess to using their ex’s login information even though they’ve broken up: 30% have secretly logged in to a social media account of someone they are no longer in a relationship with at least once, and 23% admit to still doing so currently. Possibly most invasive is the 25% who continue to track an ex’s location using location-sharing apps such as Find My Friends.
Among respondents, men are more guilty than women of (still) secretly using an ex’s login information / password for the following, post-break up:
- Video streaming: 28% vs. 17%
- Social media: 30% vs. 16%
- Location-sharing: 29% vs. 20%
- Personal email: 25% vs. 15%
Ultimately, over a third (36%) of respondents overall indicate regret in sharing passwords with a significant other, either during the relationship or after a breakup—with men feeling a bit more regretful than women (40% vs. 32%).
“Unfortunately, password sharing can lead to risks beyond cybersecurity and potentially be used as a tool of coercive control or abuse in relationships,” added Li. “That’s why it’s important to only share accounts involving personal data such as location with those you trust, as well as promptly revoke access if the relationship ends or you have other reasons for concern.” For more information on technology-related coercive control and abuse, see ExpressVPN’s guide to tech safety for survivors of domestic violence.
This survey was conducted August 26–28, 2020 by ExpressVPN in collaboration with the online sampling service, Rep Data. The sample included 1,506 U.S. adults (18+) who subscribe to one or more video streaming services and are in an exclusive (non-married) relationship.